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An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education
NCES 1999046
August 1999

Enrollment of Students with Disabilities

This section provides information about the enrollment of students with disabilities at postsecondary education institutions. Information contained in this report is restricted to those students who had identified themselves in some way to the institution as having a disability, since these are the only students about whom the institutions could report. Institutions were also asked to indicate whether their counts of students with disabilities were unduplicated (i.e., counted only once, regardless of the number of disabilities) or duplicated and to indicate which students were represented in the counts. Information about verification of student disabilities was also obtained.

Institutions Enrolling Students with Disabilities

About three-quarters (72 percent) of the nation's 5,040 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 (table 1). This represents 3,630 institutions. Almost all (98 percent) public 2-year and public 4-year institutions enrolled students with disabilities, compared with 63 percent of private 4-year and 47 percent of private 2-year institutions. Virtually all medium and large institutions (99 and 100 percent, respectively) enrolled students with disabilities, compared with 63 percent of small institutions. Sixty percent of institutions enrolled students with specific learning disabilities, and 56 percent enrolled students with mobility or orthopedic impairments (table 2). Many institutions also enrolled students with hearing impairments (48 percent),4 who were blind or visually impaired (46 percent), who had health impairments or problems (45 percent), or who reported a mental illness or emotional disturbance (39 percent). About a fifth of the institutions enrolled students with speech or language impairments (18 percent), or who specified some other disability (21 percent). For each of the disability categories, public 2-year and public 4- year institutions were much more likely than private 2-year and private 4-year institutions to enroll students with the disability; for most of the disability categories, private 4-year institutions were more likely than private 2-year institutions to enroll students with the disability. Medium and large institutions were much more likely to enroll students in each of the disability categories than were small institutions.

The other disability categories shown in table 3 were created from the responses that institutions provided in the "other, specify" category on the questionnaire (used by 21 percent of institutions). Thus, the percentage of institutions actually enrolling students with these other disabilities may be higher than shown in table 3, since some institutions may have included students with these disabilities in the other categories listed on the questionnaire. Disabilities frequently mentioned by institutions for which categories were created include brain injury (traumatic or acquired brain injury, head injury), developmental disability (e.g., mental retardation, autism), neurological impairment (e.g., seizures, epilepsy, Tourette's Syndrome, cerebral palsy), and substance abuse. Some institutions counted students with multiple disabilities in the "other, specify" category, and a few institutions counted students with temporary disabilities here, particularly if those disabilities required support services or accommodations. In addition, some institutions did not know the specific disabilities of all or some of the students that they included in their counts of students with disabilities.

Number of Postsecondary Students with Disabilities

An estimated 428,280 students with disabilities were enrolled at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions in 1996-97 or 1997-98 (table 4).5 Consistent with the distributions of the percentage of institutions that enrolled students with disabilities, most of the students with disabilities were enrolled at public 2-year and public 4-year institutions, and at medium and large institutions.6

Specific learning disabilities was the most frequent disability, with almost half of the students with disabilities (195,870 out of 428,280 students) in this category (table 4).7 Institutions reported 59,650 students with mobility or orthopedic impairments, 49,570 students with health impairments or problems, and 33,260 students with mental illness or emotional disturbance. Institutions also reported 23,860 students with a hearing impairment,8 18,650 students who were blind or visually impaired, and 4,020 students who had a speech or language impairment. The remaining 38,410 students were reported by the institutions in the "other, specify" category.9

Table 5 shows the number of students reported by institutions in the disability categories created from the "other, specify" category on the questionnaire. Of the 38,410 students reported in the "other, specify" category, institutions indicated that the specific disability was unknown for 13,030 students; most of these students (10,930 out of 13,030) were enrolled at public 2- year institutions. Institutions also reported sizable numbers of students with developmental disabilities (6,020) and brain injury (6,190). Most of these students, particularly those with developmental disabilities, were reported by public 2-year institutions.

Table 6 shows the percentage distributions of all students enrolled at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary institutions and of students at these institutions who identified themselves to the institution as having a disability, presented by institutional characteristics. The distributions by institutional type are quite different, particularly for public 2-year institutions. While 37 percent of all students enrolled at these postsecondary institutions were enrolled at public 2-year institutions, 54 percent of students who identified themselves to the institution as having a disability attended a public 2-year institution. Thus, a much higher proportion of students with disabilities than of all students attended public 2-year institutions.10

Type of Counts Reported about Students with Disabilities

Institutions were asked to indicate whether the counts of students they provided by specific disabilities were unduplicated or duplicated. With unduplicated counts, each student with a disability is counted only once; that is, students are counted by their only or their primary disability. With duplicated counts, each student with a disability is counted by each disability he or she has or each disability for which services are provided; that is, students with multiple disabilities are counted multiple times. For example, if a student is both deaf and has diabetes, an institution reporting unduplicated counts would report this student in only one category; that is, the student would be counted as either hearing impaired or having a health impairment/problem.11 An institution reporting duplicated counts would report this student in both categories. Most institutions (88 percent) reported unduplicated counts of students by specific disabilities, 10 percent reported duplicated counts, and 2 percent of the institutions could not report any information about the specific disabilities of their students (table 7). There was little variation by institutional type and size in the type of counts provided for specific disability categories. The only statistically significant difference was between public and private 2-year institutions, with private 2-year institutions more often providing unduplicated counts than public 2-year institutions.

Institutions were also asked to indicate whether the count of the total number of students with disabilities that they provided was unduplicated or duplicated. With an unduplicated total, each student with any disability is counted in the total only once, regardless of the number of disabilities he or she has. A duplicated total is the duplicated sum of the number of disabilities; that is, students with more than one disability are counted for each disability they have or each disability for which services are provided. Thus, an unduplicated total represents the number of students with disabilities, while a duplicated total represents the number of disabilities. An institution could keep duplicated counts by specific disability, yet keep an unduplicated count of the total number of students with any disability; a few institutions (about 3 percent) did keep their counts in this way (not shown in tables). Most institutions (92 percent) reported an unduplicated count of the total number of students with disabilities (table 7). There was no statistically significant variation by institutional type or size in the type of counts provided for the total number of students with disabilities.

Basis for the Counts of Students with Disabilities

Institutions were asked to indicate which students with disabilities were represented in the counts they provided. Discussions with institutions during the survey development process indicated that institutions begin to include students with disabilities in their counts at different stages in the identification/verification/service process. Some institutions only count students to whom they provide services or accommodations, while some count all students that provide verification of their disabilities, regardless of whether services or accommodations are actually provided. Other institutions begin to include students in their counts as soon as students identify themselves to the disability support services office or coordinator, regardless of whether disabilities are verified or services or accommodations are provided. Some institutions include any students in their counts that have been reported to the disability support services office or coordinator as having identified themselves as having a disability, regardless of whether the disability support services office or coordinator has any contact with them. This includes information provided to the disability support services office or coordinator by other offices at the institution, such as the registrar's office, even if the disability support services office or coordinator has no contact with them. This may occur after a student has been admitted and checks a box on a registration form indicating that he or she has a disability, but then does not seek any information, services, or accommodations from the institution. Twenty-eight percent of the institutions indicated that their counts of students with disabilities included only those students to whom services or accommodations were provided; 38 percent reported that their counts were based on students who provided verification of their disabilities, regardless of whether services or accommodations were provided; 22 percent included students who identified themselves to the disability support services office or coordinator, regardless of verification or provision of services; and 12 percent said that their counts were based on all students that had been reported to the disability support services office or coordinator, regardless of whether that office had any contact with them (table 8). The basis for the counts showed some variation by institutional type and size. For example, public 4-year institutions were more likely than the other types of institutions, and private 4-year institutions were more likely than private 2-year institutions, to indicate that their counts were based on students who provided verification; medium and large institutions were more likely than small institutions to indicate that this was the basis for their counts.

Verification of Student Disabilities

All institutions, including those that did not enroll any students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997- 98, were asked about the requirement for verification of student disabilities, and what was accepted as verification. Under Section 504 and the ADA, postsecondary institutions may require adequate documentation of a disability and the need for accommodations, and once obtained, must accommodate the individual to the extent required by the law. About three-quarters (72 percent) of all institutions required verification of student disabilities (figure 1). However, verification was required more frequently by institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98 than by institutions that did not enroll students with disabilities during that time: 84 percent compared with 40 percent.

Among the institutions that enrolled students with disabilities in 1996-97 or 1997-98, there was some variation by institutional type and size in whether verification of student disabilities was required (table 9). Almost all public 4-year and medium and large institutions that enrolled students with disabilities required verification of disabilities. Public 2-year and private 4-year institutions were also quite likely to require verification.

Most institutions that enrolled students with disabilities and required verification accepted a medical evaluation/statement or a psychological evaluation/statement as verification; about threequarters accepted a vocational rehabilitation agency evaluation (table 9). About a quarter of the institutions indicated that testing or formal evaluation by the institution's disability support services office or coordinator was accepted, and about a quarter indicated that they accepted an informal evaluation or determination by the institution's disability support services office or coordinator as verification. There was some variation by institutional type and size in what was accepted as verification of student disabilities. For example, private 4-year institutions were less likely than public 2-year and 4-year institutions to accept a vocational rehabilitation agency evaluation, and public 2- year and 4-year institutions, and medium and large institutions, were more likely than private 4- year and small institutions to accept testing or formal evaluation by the institution's disability support services office or coordinator.


4 The percent of institutions that reported enrolling students with hearing impairments in this survey for 1996-97 or 1997-98 (48 percent) is approximately the same as the percent of institutions that reported in a previous PEQIS survey that they enrolled deaf or hard of hearing students in any (one or more) of the years 1989-90 through 1992-93 (47 percent). See Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in Postsecondary Education, 1994 (NCES 94-394) for the results of the PEQIS survey on deaf and hard of hearing students.

5 The number of students with disabilities represents only those students who had identified themselves in some way to the institution as having a disability, since these are the only students about whom the institutions could report. To put this number into context, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there were 14.6 million students enrolled in 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions in fall 1996 (U.S. Department of Education, 1999, Table 170). This means that about 3 percent of the students enrolled at 2-year and 4-year postsecondary education institutions identified themselves to their institution as having a disability. Estimates produced from student self-reports are somewhat different. NCES estimates that 5 percent of undergraduate students and 3 percent of graduate and firstprofessional students enrolled in postsecondary institutions had self-reported disabilities in 1995-96 (U.S. Department of Education, 1999, Table 211).

6 In addition, more students with disabilities were enrolled in institutions located in the West than in the other regions. Students with disabilities enrolled at institutions in the West represent 39 percent of the total number of students with any disability (165,340 out of 428,280). However, institutions in the West also enrolled a high proportion of all students in postsecondary education (32 percent; see table 6).

7 It is interesting to note that the number of students with specific learning disabilities represents different percentages of the total number of students with disabilities reported by the various types of institutions. Thus, while students with specific learning disabilities represent 46 percent of the total number of students with any disability reported by all institutions (195,870 out of 428,280), the percentage with specific learning disabilities is 38 percent of the total at public 2-year institutions (86,750 out of 230,170), 44 percent at private 2-year institutions (2,380 out of 5,440), 51 percent at public 4-year institutions (71,160 out of 138,860), and 66 percent at private 4-year institutions (35,580 out of 53,810).

8 The previous PEQIS survey on deaf and hard of hearing students found an estimated 20,040 students who identified themselves to the institution as deaf or hard of hearing enrolled in 2-year and 4- year postsecondary education institutions in 1992-93.

9 The number of students in the specific disabilities categories do not sum to the total number of students with any disability because of missing data and duplicated counts by specific disabilities. Weighted item nonresponse rates for the specific disabilities ranged from 1.9 to 3.0 percent, and for the total with any disability was 0.2 percent. About 3 percent of institutions kept duplicated counts of students by specific disabilities (i.e., each student with a disability was counted by each disability he or she had or each disability for which services were provided), but kept an unduplicated count of the total number of students with disabilities (i.e., each student with any disability was counted in the total only once, regardless of the number of disabilities he or she had).

10 The NCES report Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education: A Profile of Preparation, Participation, and Outcomes (NCES 1999-187) also reports that half of postsecondary students who self-reported having a disability in 1995-96 were enrolled at public 2-year institutions.

11 Some institutions that reported unduplicated counts of students also reported an additional category of "multiple disabilities" and reported students with more than one disability in this category rather than by their primary disability.

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